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Language learning app takes isiZulu international

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 01 Sept 2022

Nal’ibali, South Africa’s reading for enjoyment campaign, has partnered with international language learning app Duolingo to offer people across the globe the opportunity to learn isiZulu free of charge.

Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for ‘here’s the story’) is known for its advocacy for the use of South African languages in literacy.

The campaign seeks to address SA’s literacy problems by helping adults and children to fall in love with reading and hearing stories in their mother languages.

Since its inception in 2012, Nal’ibali has partnered with numerous stakeholders to maximise its impact. Now, in its 10th year, the campaign has expanded its reach beyond South African borders.

Nal’ibali says its latest collaboration with international language-learning platform Duolingo will offer nearly 50 million active monthly language learners across the globe the opportunity to learn isiZulu at no cost.

Part of Nal’ibali’s focus is to “promote the importance of previously marginalised African languages, and the Duolingo platform is an excellent opportunity in which to do so. We want more attention to be given to African languages, which will help protect and promote the literacy value chain in SA,” says Nal’ibali director Nqabakazi Mathe-Gina.

Last week, Duolingo announced the launch of the beginners’ isiZulu course for English speakers at its annual virtual conference, Duocon 2022.

Duolingo allows users to discover patterns on their own without needing to focus on language rules, using “implicit learning” to develop a strong foundational knowledge.

With the use of machine learning algorithms, the app offers 103 language courses in total for more than 40 distinct languages ranging from the world’s top five most spoken languages, to lesser-known and endangered languages.

Duolingo will create additional access for learners – locally and around the world – to learn to speak isiZulu via its mobile app and website.

“At Duolingo, our mission is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available,” says Emily Moline, senior curriculum designer at Duolingo.

“We’re proud to partner with Nal’ibali, an organisation also devoted to improving access to education, to launch this course and help teach isiZulu in a fun and engaging way.

“The addition of isiZulu forms part of our efforts to bring cultural awareness and exposure of lesser-known languages to a wider audience.”

According to Duolingo, IsiZulu is spoken by more than 12 million people, making it the most widely spoken African language in SA.

The Duolingo isiZulu course will introduce learners to the language’s click sounds and familiarise new speakers with isiZulu’s many noun classes.

As part of the isiZulu course launch, Duolingo has partnered with Vodacom, which will offer free access to the Duolingo platform to Vodacom users for a year.

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